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Sick days on the rise at work- what is the real issue

By Principal Lawyer, Employment

A report produced by the EEF Manufacturers Association and Westfield Health indicates that the average number of days sickness for workers has increased and the proportion of employees with zero sickness absence rates has stalled.

That will no doubt trigger, (as these reports with monotonous regularity, always do), further ministerial grumblings about a sicknote culture and the “conveyor belt to a life on benefits”.

On one view the findings indicate is that the Government’s reforms and the introduction of “fit notes” have not addressed all the problems and more thinking needs to be done. However, other recent surveys (commented upon in a report in the Guardian online in May 2013) indicate that sick rates continue to decrease. Until a report is produced which is widely accepted as authoritative, the reality may be sickness absence is plateauing.

Commentators may draw whatever statistical inference from these reports to fit the point they wish to make, but the issue that really concerns me is that those workers, facing very real illness challenges and disabilities, particularly mental health issues will have their voice drowned out in a debate which tends to demonise the sick and equate illness with idleness.

There is a workplace attitude of not only the sick but also the well that needs to be addressed.

Experience in advising employees in workplace disputes stemming from sickness issues, strongly suggests to me a negative attitude towards the ill and lack of insight into mental health issues, which combined with a heavy workload, is part of the reason for the deterioration in health and long term sickness. Can we have a report dealing with measures that will tackle that?

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